Gasping for more?

 Are you able to take a true, full, deep, and cleansing breath?   Gasping for more?

In the April newsletter our contributors discussed the involuntary process  of breathing. Today I thought I’d touch base on how our postural alignment can negatively affect our ability to breathe effectively, and efficiently access the muscles of the abdomen.    A handy tool for helping students image (visualize) the release of the pressure of performance, anxiety, and expectation has also been included!

As discussed in an earlier post, postural alignment is key to the health of the dancer as well as efficient and effective technique in all dance forms.  It is also key to whether or not we are able to access the abdominal muscles and muscle of the diaphragm effectively as well.   Fortunately breathing is a completely involuntary process – so we don’t have to think about making it happen.  BUT we CAN change HOW we are breathing.

At the attachment point of our ribs to the spine a joint is made, its synovial in nature allowing the ribs to move slightly up and down – like a bucket handle, and slightly forward and up – like a pump.   In the image to the left, notice where the ribs are attached to the spine.   There are 12 pairs of ribs attached starting at the 8th vertebrae down to the 20th vertebrae – essentially a third of the spine that is involved in the process!    The lesson?  If the thoracic spine (where the ribs attach) has an altered alignment due to improper posture -the ribs will function in a less effective manner – ultimately affecting your ability to inhale and exhale deeply.  As Monique indicated in her April article – this then has a direct effect on how much oxygen we are able to take into our lungs, and therefore our blood stream.

So let’s look at posture a little closer.   Have a look at the image to the right, notice the mid-back (the thoracic spine).  Can you see how each posture will affect the function of the ribs?   Let’s look specifically at the Lumbar Lordosis, Thoracic Kyphosis and the Forward head positions.

Lumbar Lordosis:   The abdominal muscles are extended and often the shoulder begin to pull back as well — essentially bending the thoracic spine in opposition it’s  natural curve (slightly forward).   Here the abdominals are unable to effectively support the breath, and the ribs, though still moving, are unable to use the full range of motion of the thoracic vertebral joint.

Thoracic Kyphosis:  Here the shoulders are sliding forwards and the top of the pelvis is tipping back slightly – compressing the rib cage (and the lungs and diaphragm which are housed within the rib cage), shortening the front abdominals and waistline.  Often this posture is partnered with neck and shoulder pain.

Forward Head Position:   Here the chin pokes forward bringing the head forward of the neutral alignment (centre line of the body).  In opposition the thoracic spine pushes back and upwards, again compressing the chest and preventing the full inhalation of oxygen into the lungs.  This posture can also compress the organs within the abdomen (stomach & intestines in particular) and affect their efficiency as well.

More! More!

In the April Newsletter Pilates Instructor Trainer Monique gave us a quick tutorial on breathing.  Now let’s add a pressure releasing dimension to that exercise.

Checking in with your postural alignment, talk yourself/your students through the exercise –  on the inhalation imagine a kettle of water coming to a boil on the stove, now on the exhalation imagine the steam shooting out of the kettle – your exhalation is the release of that steam.  With each breath the pressure in your ‘kettle’ decreases so you can focus on the task at hand, allowing you to then bring your body more easily into alignment.

On the next breath focus on lengthening the spine by reaching the top of your head to the ceiling while also ‘feeling’ your tailbone lengthening to the floor. Encourage students (and yourself) to maintain this length as you move through your class/day.

 

Tip:  Set a daily posture reminder on your phone or ipad.  I suggest “Time to take a Break!  Stand up and realign your posture – now take a few deep breaths – maybe add a stretch or two.”

 

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

April Newsletter is here!

Subscribers have just received this months newsletter which focuses on tools that will help you, your child, and/or your students to get through these last few pressure packed months of the dance season.

  • Monique discusses the importance of breath and provides a guide to breathing.
  • Stacey has provided some ideas for quick nutrient dense snacks.
  • Chantale discusses pressure and effective ways to cope with performance pressure.
  • We do get a bit technical today so I have included a translation of the anatomy.

Here is a (PDF) sample of what you will see in this month’s newsletter:     April Sampler

To receive the full newsletter follow this link:  Subscribe

Wishing you wellness in dance, and life!

Creating an effective, efficient warmup — Keep it fun!

 

In a recent guest post Diana Harris discusses the physiological response to warming up the body.  Today’s post delves into the how:  How do I create an effective warmup (that doesn’t take up too much time)?  And responds to the question that many are thinking – Yes, but does it really HELP my dancing?

Yes!   As a dancer you will find that you are more aware of  your body beginning from the first plie, rather than halfway through class.   While blood is circulated and warmth is brought to you muscles, your neurotransmitters also become more efficient at sending and receiving messages via the warmup – so they are ready to respond more quickly.  The result?  Quicker muscular response = decreased chance of injury AND increased progress!

[Adult students – this applies to you too!  Taking the time to arrive to class a bit early and do a brief warm up will not only encourage a quicker muscular response, it will also help you to focus your energy in class.]

The good news is that the process of warming up does not have to be complicated, nor lengthy.   Teachers can invest a bit of time in ‘setting’ a warmup – and then keep that warm up for a few weeks.   Keep it fresh by changing one element every once in a while, but the goal is to keep it simple and easy to remember (so that your students can then do it on their own, without specific instruction).

A sample warmup 8yrs and up:

[Music – ideally starting at a walking pace and speeding up gradually as the pace of the movement increases.]

    1. Begin walking in the space at a moderate pace.
    2. Quicken the pace and encourage students to use their arms more aggressively (exaggerate the natural swing of the arms).
    3. Progress to high marches – activating the quadriceps and abdominals by lifting the legs in a high-stepping march. Continue the exaggerated swing of the arms.
    4. Progress to a skip – still traveling freely in the space.   Add cues to change direction.
    5. Alternate steps 3 and 4 – two to four times.  Increasing the length of time and encouraging students to ‘skip higher’ each time.
    6. Slow it down to the high march – encourage a focus on breathing.
    7. Slow it down to a brisk walking pace and bring the students into a circle in the middle of the room.
    8. Taking a cue from the Asanas used in Yoga –  standing in parallel, bring the arms overhead as you inhale.   On the exhale open the arms through second position of the arms and bend forward to the floor, keeping the knees slightly bent.
    9. #8 can be repeated, and/or move into a lunge (for teens) stepping one foot back into a lunge position (ensure that the front knee remains at a 90 degree angle with the knee directly over the ankle).   Repeat on the opposing side.
    10. Finish with students returning to standing with an energized inhalation and exhalation.
      • Note:   If you use turned out positions in your class you can incorporate a more relaxed plie in step 10 beginning in a wide 2nd position of the feet and moving to 1st position.  This will help students to access alignment with external rotation before diving into classwork in turned out positions.
      • Circles, patterns and pathways:  This warmup can be done in a circle or moving freely in ‘personal’ space.
      • Here  skipping is the aerobic movement – who doesn’t love skipping?  It brings a smile to the face of the even the shyest students!   Yes, older students find it a bit silly to skip — but the silly factor gets them smiling and laughing.  Class begins with a giggle and a more positive perspective.  That said, any aerobic movement could be incorporated into this warmup example.

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Now it is your turn!   What tools do you use to warm your dancers (or yourself) before class or performance?

 

10 Important Reminders: Healthy Habits for a Healthy Body

This post is intended to provide a few reminders when considering our body image.   There is no particular order to this list as each point is equally as important as  the next.   My hope is that students, parents, and teachers will take this post as  a reminder that often developing a positive body image is a group effort.   It includes not only the student, teacher, and parent – but professionals as well.  Taking steps to proactively consider students’ (your child’s) thoughts on body image and speaking to them about it can help to prevent and/or resolve potential problems in this area.

1. DO Avoid Dieting. The term invokes a thought of depriving ourselves of food (aka. nutrition and fuel).

2. DO seek healthy food choices. Remember that food is the fuel that you body needs and uses for every function – from cell and energy production to muscle contraction and breathing. Limiting your fuel intake limits the ability of your body to function.

3. DO Speak to a dietitian. If you feel that you might need to ‘lose weight’ or gain muscle – start with speaking to a dietitian. This will help you to look at where you are at with you food choices today and determine if and what food choices might be effective changes for you.

4. DO Drink Water. We have talked about it before and are saying it again. Water is essential to your health on a cellular level. It is essential for your tissues, blood, muscle, and brain function.

5. DO be wary of extreme weight loss. Teachers – if you notice that a student’s body is changing dramatically – speak to the parent. Bring your concerns to their attention. Whether the weight loss is intentional or not, speak to the parent. Recommend that medical advice be sought. Parents – this can be a difficult subject to approach, but it is crucial that you do so.

6. DO Trust the Science. There is tremendous science behind nutrition for performance athletes (sports and dance). There are a lot of fad diets out there that claim ‘amazing results’. In general, if there is a miraculous or outrageous claim being made then it is highly likely that it does not work. Yes, you might see results in the short term – but in the long term those results will most likely be impossible to maintain.   Best advice:  Trust the science – speak to professionals who work with athletes and dancers for guidance.

7. DO Accept yourself. Historically the dance world holds the ‘ideal physique’ on a pedestal – many seek to achieve this physique. We (teachers, dancers, parents) need to remind ourselves and our  young people that the body you have been given is a gift.  Genetics provides a map for our physical development, training can have a direct effect on the lines our bodies can create through dance,  accept that there are things we cannot change (genetics) and learn how best to train and fuel your body for optimum performance.

8. DO Investigate/ Research, and seek advice. Your body is your instrument. Research effective ways to improve your health, then speak to a professional before incorporating it into your lifestyle. For nutritional advice – seek out a dietitian, for conditioning advice – seek out a physiotherapist or athletic therapist, for training advice – seek out a trusted dance teacher.  A best first step is to speak to your parents and family physician.

9. DO Know that you are not alone. In today’s society young women and men are bombarded with images in the media that have been photo shopped (altered)  to fit how marketing executives want the public to view their product so that we will buy that product.  Be careful not to fall into the trap of believing that what you see in advertising is the truth.

10. DO What you love. Seeking happiness? Seeking purpose? Follow your heart. Seeking fulfillment in achieving the perfect body (in this authors view) is misdirected (or perhaps misguided) purpose. If you love dance, then dance for the joy of it. Seeking what is perceived as the ‘ideal dancers body’ is setting yourself up for disappointment and can result in extensive damage to your body.

Author:   Jacqui Davidson

Betwixt and Between

Alessandra Ferri and Sting: Bach Prelude

[A special thank you to my students for inspiring this post. Pay attention to the ‘bits in between’ and follow your dreams. : ) ]

Learning  is two-fold, there is the information that is given to you and the connections we then make between life and the lesson.   In the summer of 2010 my students made that connection.  It was a case of the students teaching the teacher,  one of those amazing teaching moments when a deeper conversation between teacher and student [and they were teenagers!] occurs.  Love those moments!

I asked this group of pre-teen/teen students about what makes music and movement mean something to us as dancers and audience members.  What moves us/you?  They said that it is the ‘in-between’ bits in the music (click on this text for Yo Yo Ma’s interpretation) that tell us the most.   Connecting this to dance, we concluded that it is what happens between the steps which speak to us and move us.  This is where the story is relayed from dancer to audience (click on the text for Alessandra Ferri and Sting’s interpretation).    In music, if we didn’t have the notes in between the beat/pulse the music would be just a straight pulse or beat – no melody, no rhythm.  Movement is very much the same, if there was no ‘in-between’ dance would just be a bunch of steps put together sequentially with no fluidity, no emotion, no connection.  The result of both would be bland, flat, boring, in a word – mechanical.

For those readers who are not dance lovers,  I suggest that something similar happens in sport.  If athletes only execute the skills of a sport, without effort force, or passion, the sport is diminished to the mechanics of the skills alone.  There must be energy,  force, velocity,  and a [healthy] competitive spirit behind the performance of the skills in order for the event to have meaning for the observer, and certainly for the athlete to achieve any success in competition as well.   That energy and spirit is what makes up those ‘in-between’ bits of the sport, makes it exciting to participate in and to observe, and is what make us cheer when an athlete puts all of their effort into a play or event (in addition to team/country pride).

My belief is that art [in all its forms] and sport help us appreciate the ‘in-between’ bits of life.  When we watch a dance performance we tend to appreciate more fully those performances where the dancers have found a way to express the moments in between the steps and/or the motions of the characters.  Somehow they have found a way to internalize the movement and the story to then relay it back to us through their form and their dance.  At its very best it touches us, even those who do not feel that they understand the music or the dance.   In sport, the emotion behind the force and energy is raw, true to life and tangible.  We see the raw emotion given to a race or event and when the athletes take the podium, or watches competitors take the podium.   The [sport] athlete learns to use and manage the ‘in-between’ bits throughout training and in performance, becoming conscious of emotions  felt and learning how to manage or use those emotions in performance situations.   Both similar situations – one translates the ‘in-betweens’ and one manages/uses the ‘in-betweens’.

The ‘in-between’ bits of life [the yummy and the painful alike] which make life interesting, giving us something to obsess over (a little obsession is healthy!), to relish, and in the end what makes us who we are.   Learning to translate, manage and use those moments is what makes life meaningful and leads us towards our purpose in this life.

Author:  Jacqui Davidson  [Please note that this is a re-post from my first blog, Something to Learn.]

 

 

Giving Your Knees the Lovin’ They Deserve

The Knee Joint – Simple Yet Complex

On the surface, the knee joint seems to be a simple “hinge” bending back and forth.  However, if you take the time to look more closely at this joint, you will discover a much more complex mechanism.

The knee is made up of 3 compartments, a medial (inner) compartment, a lateral (outer) compartment and an anterior (front) compartment.  This anterior compartment is another joint called the patello-femoral joint (knee cap).  The bones that form this joint are the femur above, tibia below and the patella (knee cap) in front.

The knee joint has very little boney stability and relies a great deal on the ligaments, cartilage and muscles to provide the stability of this joint.  Movement is produced by 2 key muscle groups, the Quadriceps (front of thigh), which extend the knee and the Hamstrings (at the back of the thigh) that bends the knee.  The superficial calf muscle (Gastrocnemius) also crosses the back of the knee joint and is involved in bending the knee at times.

The cartilage or menisci are half moon-shaped structures which sit on top of the tibia in the medial and lateral compartments.  They serve as shock absorbers and also deepen the joint to provide more stability and keep the femur from sliding off the tibia.  2 key ligaments inside the joint are the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments.  The anterior cruciate ligament keeps the knee from hyperextending and from rotating too much internally while the posterior cruciate essentially does the opposite.  Two ligaments exist outside the joint and are called the collateral ligaments.  There is a medial (inner) collateral which prevents your tibia from bending sideways laterally and the lateral (outer) collateral which prevents your tibia from bending sideways medially. The collateral ligaments are more commonly injured than the cruciate ligaments.

The patello-femoral joint acts as a pulley system for your Quadriceps muscle.  The patella is imbedded in the Quadriceps tendon and attached to the tibia below through the patellar tendon.  This gives your Quadriceps a better mechanical advantage to work with your knee as it bends.  It is also important for the inner and outer fibers of your Quadriceps to work in balance to keep the patella tracking properly.  Patello-femoral joint irritation and pain is common when this imbalance exists.  Your Quadriceps also performs an important role in jumping by contracting concentrically while it aids in softening landings by contracting eccentrically.

The Hamstring muscles (of which there are three two inner and one outer) bend or flex the knee joint and help extend the hip along with the gluteal muscles.  They also act as a “dynamic” anterior cruciate ligament and help to keep the tibia from sliding forward off of the femur.

These are the key structures of the knee joint that must work together to allow for normal operation of the joint under the large loads and stresses we put the joint through daily with all our activities.  Dancing, of course, places huge demands on this joint and with the use of good technique and proper training in and out of the studio we can keep the joint healthy and lower the risk of injury.

 

How can I apply this to my teaching/dancing?

ALIGNMENT IS KEY!   

  • Remember the aligning our dots exercise?   Postural and pelvic alignment has a direct effect on knee alignment – start from the feet and work your way up when assessing knee alignment.

Invest time in teaching proper alignment

  • When working in ‘turned out’ or parallel positions, ensure that the knees are moving in alignment with the feet and hips.  For some this will be a challenge, but its a worthwhile investment of your time.  The investment will pay off tenfold when you see that your students are able to self-correct.

It IS about efficient and effective movement.

  • Teach students to work within their own physical ability.   Students are not built from a cookie cutter method (all physiques the same).  Take the time to look at students’ physique and guide them to work within their own unique physique (encourage individuality!).   This will optimize the efficiency of their movement, training more effective and efficient movement patterns over time.

Talk about the anatomy of movement with your teen and adult students.    

  • First, it is important that they have an understanding of why it is important to work within their own physique.  Second, experience indicates that this gives them a deeper understanding and awareness of their bodies, which then translates into a more thoughtful work ethic in studio.

Be willing to adapt.

  • No dance form or teaching method is perfect for every – body.   Find ways to adapt tried and true methods to suit the bodies that you are teaching.

It is not about today.

  • All of this awareness and prevention is less about preventing an injury today or tomorrow, and more about preventing injury over time.   Whether dancing, walking, or running indoors/outdoors, improper alignment of the knees causes friction and wear in places where it is not meant to occur.  In the long-term this can translate into worn out cartilage, meniscus damage, ligament damage, and chronic knee pain.

Remember that “An ounce of prevention = a pound of cure”.

Authors:   Sam Steinfeld, Kevin Dyck & Janine Didyk, RWB Physiotherapy Team (article) and Jacqui Davidson, Founder AD4L (teaching considerations)

 

Not eating enough veggies? Smoothies might just do the trick!

Today’s post is from Guest Contributor and Green Smoothie Guru, Natalie Duhamel.

 

I started drinking smoothies because I knew I wasn’t getting enough fruits and veggies in my diet. What a difference in my health these lovely smoothies made! It’s really like drinking a salad in a glass – nutritious, delicious, and filling.

 

Peachy Green Smoothie

1 cup frozen peaches

2 leaves kale

½ avocado

½ cup baby carrots or 1 large carrot

1 apple

1 banana

1 tsp maca

1 cup plain (unsweetened) soy milk

Note:  If you don’t have any maca, just leave it out. You could add some hemp protein, and the brand I recommend is Manitoba Harvest. If you’re soy intolerant, you could use hemp milk, almond milk, oat milk or brown rice milk.

  1. Wash your produce. Chop fruits and vegetables (if you have a Vitamix, you probably won’t need to do much chopping). *Note: if your blender is not very strong, you will want to remove the thick stalks from the kale.
  2. Place all ingredients in blender. Blend.
  3. Pour into your favourite glass or to-go container and enjoy!

 

Ruby Red Smoothie

½ cup frozen mixed berries

1 cup spinach

½  cup baby carrots or 1 large carrot

1 apple

1 beet

1 banana

2 tbsp hemp seeds or flax seeds

1 cup water

  1. Wash up your fruits and veggies. You don’t have to peel the beet – just scrub it with a veggie scrubber. As for the apple, you don’t need to core it if you have a strong enough blender. Just cut into quarters and throw them in the blender.
  2.  Put all ingredients in your blender. Blend.
  3.  Pour into your favourite glass or to-go container and enjoy!

 

Guest contributor Natalie Duhamel is a Winnipeg-based Nutrition Ninja, Fitness Rockstar, Green Smoothie Guru and Spiritual Gangster. She works with people who want to unleash the best version of themselves to the world.  www.natalieduhamel.com

 

See an excerpt from Natalie’s article in the January 2012 AD4L Newsletter here –  January 2012 Sample.  Subscribe to get the full recipe!

 

And don’t forget to jump over to her site and check out her Smoothie of the Day e-book!

 

Are you optimizing your performance?

Warming Up – Why is it Necessary?

Guest post by fellow blogger and dance educator, Diana Harris of The Healthy Dancer blog.

A little vocabulary before we begin…

ATP: Adenosine Triphosphate, it is our fuel source for all activities from doing homework, to typing, to doing laundry, to dancing, to running.   What we eat has a direct impact on how much ATP our bodies are able to produce.

Synovial Fluid: A liquid that is present in our synovial joints (shoulder, elbows, knees, ankles, etc.) which allows for the smooth movement of our joints and keeps the connective tissues that form the joints healthy.

Dancer Jera Wolfe. Photo credit Shawn Simpson.

It’s time for the rehearsal to begin, and there is only a short amount of time so it may be tempting to skip the warm-up and just jump right in.  What happens during the warm-up that makes it so important anyway?

We are given one body and our job, as dancers, is to make certain that we care for our bodies and insure that they are working at an optimal level. A warm-up not only prepares us mentally by focusing our thoughts, it also leads our body through steps to prepare for the demands we place upon it.

When we begin to warm-up, our muscles are able to use phosphate that is stored within them as ATP and phosphocreatine molecules to create energy immediately.  The energy that is created by this system will, however, only last for 8-10 seconds.  After those ten seconds, the muscles begin to use the glucose, or sugar, that is readily available to create energy for the next few minutes of exercise.  Our muscles are able to create energy for this brief period of time without having to rely on oxygen.

As this energy is created and the warm-up continues, the autonomic nervous system receives a signal to stimulate the nerves around the heart.  The heart receives a signal to contract, or beat, faster and stronger.  The stronger the heart’s contraction, the stronger the release, resulting in more space in the heart for a greater volume of blood.  This greater volume of blood means that, when the heart contracts, more blood is pumped out and circulated through the body with each heartbeat.

At the same time, the nerves that control the blood vessels are activated and signal the vessels to constrict, or get smaller, meaning there is less blood flow to all parts of the body.  Concurrently, the energy creation, or metabolism, that is occurring within the muscles overrides this signal, and the blood vessels in the muscles get wider, or dilate, which results in greater blood flow to the muscles.  Therefore, blood flow is diverted away from the organs so that the working parts, the muscles, may receive an optimal amount of nutrients and oxygen.

As all of this is occurring in the circulatory system, the brain stem, which controls our breathing, is receiving signals to stimulate and increase the activity of the respiratory system.  As a result, our breathing speeds up to supply more oxygen to the blood, which is being rapidly delivered to the muscles.

This oxygen is used for the next step in creating energy as the warm-up ends and more rigorous physical activity begins.  This process is called aerobic glycolysis and allows the body to continue to breakdown stored glucose to create energy for a sustained period of time.

As a result of all this activity, the temperature of the muscles has increased, leading to increased flexibility.  Additionally, the heat that is generated during the warm-up also serves to liquefy the synovial fluid that is in our joints.  While we are resting, the fluid becomes jelly-like, but as heat is generated, the jelly breaks down into a liquid form that is able to lubricate our joints and keep them “well-oiled” and moving smoothly.

Our bodies are amazing machines that are equipped to do so many things. However, much like a computer, the human body is wired to complete tasks in a series of steps. In order to be able to provide the optimum physical performance required for a class or a rehearsal, the body needs to be able to sequentially go through the above steps.  We, as dancers, demand so much from our bodies.  Our bodies will definitely respond, but we need to make sure we are going to let them.

 

Author Diana Harris: Holding a BA in Dance Education and an MS in Exercise Science, Diana has been a dance educator for the past 19 years.  She has studied ballet, modern, jazz, tap and musical theater dance.  She believes in creating healthy, thinking dancers and believes that dance can be beneficial to all and should be accessible to all.

 

 

Book Review: Eating the Alphabet by Lois Elhert

What a beautiful way to incorporate healthy ideas into your preschool dance classes!

 

Lois Elhert has done an exceptional job illustrating the shapes, colours, and textures of a rainbow of fruits and vegetables from A to Z in her book Eating the Alphabet.  From A to Z (or Zed for our Canadian readers) she has beautifully illustrated the more common fruits and vegetables, but also some that are less common as well.

At the back of the book the author has included an index of all of the foods in the book, explaining what they are and where they originated.

Ways to incorporate this book into your class:

Pick a letter (page) of the alphabet and explore the different fruits and vegetables that represent that letter. Use the shapes and colors in the artwork as a springboard for the exploration of shape, texture, and colour with your students. Consider not only what is familiar, but also what is unfamiliar.  Talk about the energy we derive from the foods we eat and explore how energy, or the lack of energy, can make us feel.  Incorporate this into a lesson on exploring effort in relation to how energy affects us physically.

My students love to look at the shapes and colours on one page, pick their favorite fruit or vegetable and then go into their personal space to make their bodies into the same shape as the picture.  Enjoying a challenge, they get a kick out of trying to move around the room without changing their shape, or moving in the same energy that they think they might receive from eating that particular food.

To wellness in dance and life!